Adventures in Self-Publishing: Using Social Media to Promote your Book

Social Media Marketing, courtesy of Paola Peralta/Wikimedia Commons - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license Last time I promised to talk about setting up Twitter and Facebook pages. For many people this should be the easiest part of establishing a Web presence, since so many folks already use one or both services. If you’re one of them , the biggest challenge may be to unlearn existing habits and start using social media in a very different and more purposeful way than before (after all, unless your book is about LOL cats, pointers to their Youtube videos isn’t likely to help sell your book). If you’re not, the biggest challenge won’t be setting up the pages (which is easy) but finally taking the plunge into a bottomless pit that you may understandably have been scrupulously avoiding for a long time. Like me.

Let’s cover the basics first. One of the things I haven’t done as efficiently as I should have regarding establishing my social media presence is work to establish a brand. The background is that a long time ago I made a half-hearted stab at social media, and set up two Twitter accounts: one to push my fiction writing, and another for my professional writing. The former used the name of the principal character of my book as a Twitter handle (@Adversego) and the latter used my own name. Bad call on both counts.

The prevailing thinking today is that you should use your name as the keystone of your social media presence, rather than the title of your first book, a character name or something cute. The point is pretty obvious – no matter what you decide to write about in the future, your name will be on the cover (tangible or virtual). So if you want to build a brand, build it around something that’s durable and worth investing time and effort in.

That can be a bit complicated, though. If you have a long name, like mine, it doesn’t make a very good Twitter handle, as it gobbles up to many precious letters. So I used @Adversego, and also used “Tales of Adversego” as the title of the blog I set up purely for my fiction writing. But since the character’s name isn’t in any of the book titles, that wasn’t too smart, either, since it would only be meaningful to someone who had already read the book. Lesson one, then, is that you should think about using your name in the titles of both your Twitter as well as your Facebook pages, and in your Twitter handle as well. As you might expect, this will also make it a lot easier for people to find you.

Next comes the look and feel for your pages.  Unfortunately, when it comes to visual presentation, neither Facebook nor Twitter gives you a lot of freedom about how you set up the graphics of your header. And Twitter gives you very little space to work with as well (and we’re not even talking about mobile yet).

While you can pick a stock theme for your page headers, it would may be hard to find one that evokes your books. But you can also upload an image (like a part of your book cover) to use as a background. If you take a look at my Facebook page, you’ll see that’s what I did (compare the header background to the top of the cover, which is a section of the stock photo I bought to use as the background of the book cover). The Twitter header is similar, although not identical (due to the size and shape of the Twitter real estate) and a different section of the same image is the background for my book blog.  In each case, the image sets an edgy tone that seems right to me to promote a thriller, and recalls the book itself.

Of course, the image you upload can be a composite of several appropriate images. As you will have noticed, the headers you just looked at also included a head shot of me, the book cover itself, and a favorable review quote.  This is a pretty typical header layout, but as always, there are many variations, so you should take a look at the pages of other authors, both traditional and Indie, to see what appeals to you. In doing so, think about what might be special about your book(s) and their theme (edgy? romantic? YA? etc.) as well as what specific images would be smart to feature to generate the most interest in potential readers. If you don’t know how to put a composite image together, you probably know someone that does, or pay someone (your publisher; your book cover designer; a freelancer) to do that for you.

The next thing you’ll need is the header text for your Twitter page. Like everything else at Twitter, you’ve only got so many characters to work with, so choose your words wisely, and again, take a look at the pages of lots of other authors. When you do look around, you’ll start to see some interesting variations.

By way of example, let’s take a look at the Twitter text used by perennial best seller David Baldacci’s, which reads as follows:

#1 bestselling author and passionate supporter of family literacy
Virginia, U.S.A. •

Needless to say, when you’re a #1 bestselling author, you don’t have to work too hard at optimizing your discoverability on Twitter, or worry about tailoring your message to optimize results. Instead, Baldacci has chosen to split his message between vocational and avocational themes – and not even use up his full character count in the process.  Mine, on the other hand, reads like this:

Attorney representing entrepreneurs, tech companies, Venture Capitalists & cybersecurity defenders; Author of The Alexandria Project:
Boston •

That’s a mix of data credentialing my basis for writing a cybersecurity thriller and a link to its Amazon page and a blog that covers all my writing on all topics (only the fiction oriented entries are cross-posted to my book blog). You’ll find lots of other variants and approaches.

You’ll also have to decide whether you want to use your Twitter account for multiple purposes, or have one account to support your work as an author and another for personal or work-related purposes. If you do this with either your Twitter or your Facebook presence, you’ll need to decide whether to keep them totally separate or have them linked (e.g., with Facebook, you can set up multiple pages).

I took this route, and once I decided to become more an active user of Twitter I found that it rapidly became a pain in the neck (previously I had only tweeted links to new blog entries, and that was it), as you always have to be careful which page you’re working from when you tweet. Otherwise, you’ll recruit followers to the wrong one.

After you have your pages set up comes the big question: how will you use them? And how much time are you willing to dump into this kind of black hole in pursuit of book promotion? Most important of all, will you take the time to learn how to use them so that you won’t spend a colossal amount of time accomplishing absolutely nothing, which is incredibly easy to do.

I believe that there are two very important lessons to be learned before taking the plunge, or before redirecting your prior social media efforts to this new cause. I also believe that they are two of the most important lessons you should take away from this series. They are as follows:

1.  Don’t forget what your real goal is

2.  Don’t confuse activity with success

Using Twitter provides a tremendous object lesson in this regard. Why? Because while you do need to acquire a certain critical mass of followers before you can get Twitter to start working for you, gaining a huge number of followers is NOT your goal – getting a huge number of READERS for your book (presumably) is. It’s easy to get confused, and think that the more followers you’ve attracted, the more you’ve achieved. In fact, unless you go at this very carefully, all you’ve likely accomplished is attracting a lot of followers.

This is a terribly easy trap for a frustrated SelfPub author to fall into after watching their Amazon rank drop on a daily basis. Seeing your Twitter followers increase can become a surrogate for achieving your real goal, because you can actually move the needle on your Follower number. That can come as a real relief after spending so much time on other types of promotion, perhaps with little or no tangible success. But what have you actually gained?

In order to get Twitter working for you, you therefore need to accomplish a number of things:

1.  You need to attract people who are either potential readers, or people that may lead potential readers to your book

2.  You need to figure out how to get them to buy your book

That’s harder than you might think. First of all, if all you do is Tweet about your book, you’re not likely to attract many followers (who wants to hear you go on constantly about your book, anyway)? So you need to figure out how you can provide something of value to make it worth someone’s while to bother following you. And then you need to only mention your book in moderation (the 80/20 rule is commonly cited in this context).

OK, so what should you Tweet about? 

That can be a tougher question than it sounds, especially in the case of fiction. In my case, for example, should I go after cybersecurity professionals, because there would be lots of things I could tweet about (but what if they don’t read thrillers?)  Or do I tweet about thrillers in some way (but what exactly should I tweet, other than about other people’s books, and in any event, with so many hundreds of new thrillers to read, why should they end up reading read mine?)

What you’ll see if you look around is that many self-published authors decide to blog and tweet about self-publishing.  That seems to be a good idea, but does it really provide good answers to the questions I posed above? Unless you’re selling a book about self-publishing, the answer is almost certainly ‘no.’ Instead, what you’re doing is providing free information to people who have no interest in buying your book at all.

How can I be so sure? Well, I ran a little experiment in my last entry in anticipation of addressing this point today. As you recall, part way through that entry I added in this text:

Have you been finding “Adventures in Self-Publishing” useful?  If so, why not spring for a mere $2.99 NOW to encourage the author to continue writing it? That’s less than the proverbial cup of Starbucks coffee, and hey, the reviewers all say it’s a great read!

Guess how many copies of my book do you expect I sold via that Amazon link to the 598 people that read that entry since then? A grand total of 1, and that was 11 days after I posted that entry. Granted, this series has always included ads for the same book. But virtually no sales have been logically traceable to those ads, either. So before you start blogging, tweeting, or otherwise engaging in social media, be sure to ask yourself whether your efforts are going to actually reach your target market, and whether they’re likely to incentivize someone to actually read your book.

As I’m still feeling my way down the social media road (largely in the dark), I’ll hold off on making concrete suggestions about what you should do for a bit longer, but you’re welcome to follow me @Adversego to see how I’m going about it, and form your own judgment about how appropriate it might be to accomplish the two objectives above in connection with a Cyberthriller. I’d also suggest that you follow some other Indie authors in your own genre that seem to be having success in selling their books (when in doubt, just check their Amazon rank).

One final point for this week: there’s a new reader/author community that’s been launched to feature undiscovered authors, called Noveltunity. The site is still in beta phase, which means for the time being you can join for free, and download three free books per month. You can also vote on selections for the next month, and my book has been picked as one of the nine selections from which three will be selected as next month’s read. If you’re so inclined to join up, you can find the sign up page here. It takes less than a minute to complete the form you’ll find there. 

After completing it, clicking the “voting” tab will take you to the page where you can review the candidate books and vote.  I may be biased, but personally I think that a vote for The Alexandria Project would be a fine choice. They seem to be having some technical problems right now, so if your registration doesn’t “take” on the first try, you might need to try again later. Right now, my book is in first place, so if you help keep it there, you’ll be able to read it next month for free.